Andre Gunder Frank

Radical economist who analysed 'the development of underdevelopment'
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Andre Gunder Frank was, from the mid-1960s until his death, an important intellectual figure on the left in the fields of economics, economic, social and political history, development studies and international relations. The author of over 40 books and a prolific contributor to edited collections, academic and political journals and newspapers, he is best known for his analyses of "the development of underdevelopment" (i.e. dependency theory) in the Third World (particularly Latin America) during the 1960s and early 1970s; of "the crisis in the world economy" during the late 1970s and 1980s; and of the dynamics of "the world system" in long-term historical perspective, from the late 1980s onwards. Much of his writing, although scholarly, was politically motivated and he would describe himself as a political activist as well as an academic.

Andre Gunder Frank, development economist: born Berlin 24 February 1929; Associate Professor, University of Brasilia 1962-65; Extraordinary Professor, National School of Economics, National Autonomous University of Mexico 1965-66; Professor, Department of Sociology and Faculty of Economics, University of Chile 1968-72; Visiting Research Fellow, Max-Planck Institute 1974-78; Professor of Social Change, School of Development Studies, University of East Anglia 1978-83; Professor of Development Economics and Social Sciences, University of Amsterdam 1983-94; married first Marta Fuentes (died 1993; two sons), second Nancy Howell (marriage dissolved), third 2003 Alison Candela; died Luxembourg 23 April 2005.

Andre Gunder Frank was, from the mid-1960s until his death, an important intellectual figure on the left in the fields of economics, economic, social and political history, development studies and international relations. The author of over 40 books and a prolific contributor to edited collections, academic and political journals and newspapers, he is best known for his analyses of "the development of underdevelopment" (i.e. dependency theory) in the Third World (particularly Latin America) during the 1960s and early 1970s; of "the crisis in the world economy" during the late 1970s and 1980s; and of the dynamics of "the world system" in long-term historical perspective, from the late 1980s onwards. Much of his writing, although scholarly, was politically motivated and he would describe himself as a political activist as well as an academic.

Frank (Gunder to his friends) was born in Berlin in 1929. He was four when his pacifist father, a novelist, took him out of Nazi Germany. They emigrated first to Switzerland and then to the United States. After high school in Ann Arbor, Michigan, he went on to Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania, where he studied economics, "became a Keynesian" and graduated with honours. In 1950, he started a PhD in economics at the University of Chicago and studied economic theory with Milton Friedman, who was even then preaching his monetarist gospel. Despite passing his comprehensive exams in economic theory and public finance after less than a year, Frank received a letter advising him to leave, because of his "unsuitability".

He went to the University of Michigan in 1951 where he studied with Kenneth Boulding and Richard Musgrave and became active on the left in the US National Student Association. At USNSA's congress that year tried his hand at promoting the most liberal of the candidates running for president, but McCarthyism was at its height and a right-wing candidate (Frank's room-mate) won the election.

In 1954, he was hired by the University of Chicago to help prepare one of a series of handbooks for George Murdock's Human Relations Area Files project at Yale University - a project ostensibly concerned with comparative ethnography and cultural anthropology, but also supported and used by the US Army's Psychological Warfare Division. Frank worked on Ukraine and Belorussia for this project and made use of the empirical material collected on the former for his PhD dissertation on Soviet agriculture.

By 1957 he had gained his doctorate and become Assistant Professor of Economics at Michigan State University. The following year, MIT's Center for International Studies gave him an office for three months, during which time he met, among others, W.W. Rostow, who was working on his celebrated Stages of Economic Growth: a non-Communist manifesto, along with a book he was doing for the CIA with the centre's director Max Millikan. Rostow confided to Frank that, since the age of 18, he had made it his life's mission to offer the world a better alternative than that of Karl Marx.

Frank resigned from Michigan State University in 1961, stating that he could not in good conscience continue to work on "development" in the US because of the intimate links between area and development studies on the one hand and the Cold War and US imperialism/nationalism on the other. During the early 1960s he travelled and worked first in Africa and then in Latin America. Influenced by his own first-hand experiences, by the Latin American "new left" and by Marta Fuentes (whom he had met in Chile and married), he began to write and publish extensively from a radical and internationalist perspective, criticising the prevailing conventional wisdom of "modernisation" theory (as espoused by such American social scientists as Daniel Lerner, Everett Hagen and David McClelland) and developing an alternative analysis of underdevelopment and dependence.

From 1962 he was Associate Professor at the University of Brasilia. The month before the military coup of March 1964, and after their son Paulo was born, Gunder and Marta left Brazil for Mexico, where Gunder became Extraordinary Professor in Economics at the National Autonomous University. A second son, Miguel, was born in Mexico City.

Frank's writings were having a big impact and already by 1965 he was refused permission "to return to unrelinquished domicile in the USA" as "contrary to the best interests of this country", because of his "further identification with the Communist Chinese position of world revolution and the destruction of the capitalist system". He was also barred at one point by the government of Canada as "a threat to national security". Despite this, he was appointed Visiting Professor in the Departments of Economics and History by the Sir George Williams University in Montreal from 1966 to 1968.

In 1968, he became Professor at the University of Chile, Santiago, where he remained for five years and produced a stream of influential works, on "the development of underdevelopment in Latin America" and on the inadequacy of conventional modernisation theory in economics and sociology ("the sociology of development and the underdevelopment of sociology").

He had travelled to Cuba in 1967, as a journalist representing the Marxist journal Monthly Review, for which he had already written in previous years, to cover the first (and last) Latin American Solidarity Congress. He talked about staying in Cuba to work, but he and his family were put unceremoniously on a plane to the Bahamas where, having no visas, they were detained at the airport until the Governor-General permitted them to stay overnight in a hotel. He was also rejected by the Karl Marx University in Leipzig - where he had previously been offered a post researching Latin American history on the strength of his father's good reputation - as "unsuitable". As Frank himself once observed:

Cold War ideological opposition to dependence theory ranged across the entire political spectrum from right to left, including especially Moscow and its orthodox Communist allies.

When Salvador Allende became the first elected Marxist President of Chile, Frank turned his hand to writing articles for the local press on timely issues of the day (such as the terms for the nationalisation of copper), applying underdevelopment theory to practical problems of national emancipation and development. He also continued to publish his radical analyses of "development" more widely abroad. In 1968, he made another trip to Cuba, this time to an international congress of 500 intellectuals from 57 countries and helped draft the Appeal of Havana that declared:

It is the fundamental interest and duty of intellectuals to support the struggles of national liberation, social emancipation and cultural decolonisation of all people in Africa, Asia and Latin America and . . . the struggle against imperialism.

By now, in the heightened global political climate of the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the struggle for liberation was arguably at its most intense across Africa, Asia and Latin America, the radical ideas of "dependency" and "underdevelopment" had spread like wildfire and been incorporated into the political ideology of radical intellectuals and activists across the world. But when, at the third conference of Unctad (the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development) in 1972, which took place in Santiago, Chile, delegates from African countries talked about "the development of underdevelopment", Frank decided that this idea had become so institutionalised that it was time to move on.

At the Seventh Congress of Latin American Sociology - held in the same building as the Unctad conference - he delivered a paper entitled "Dependence (Theory) is Dead, Long Live Dependence". What he felt was needed at this juncture was the study of, and resistance to, the worldwide economic crisis of capital accumulation that had already begun, and the seizing of the opportunities afforded by the restructuring process that would inevitably accompany and follow this crisis.

The military coup of 1973 which overthrew Allende and his government allowed General Augusto Pinochet free rein to introduce the monetarist policies of Milton Friedman and "the Chicago boys" - "equilibrium on the point of a bayonet", according to the sub-title of Frank's polemic Economic Genocide in Chile (1974). Frank, still a German citizen, left Chile with his family and returned in exile to Germany. He managed to obtain a one-semester visiting professorship at the University of Berlin, and became a Visiting Research Fellow at the Max-Planck Institute in Starnberg from 1974 until 1978. During this time, he published 10 books and vast numbers of shorter essays, but in five years of trying never managed to secure a full-time university job, despite being short-listed several times, and was obliged to live on two research grants.

In 1978 he took up a post as Professor of Social Change in the School of Development Studies at the University of East Anglia (UEA). His family settled in Norwich, where they enjoyed the presence of a lively Chilean community-in-exile, but were dismayed by the racism they felt they encountered.

Andre Gunder Frank was a towering intellect and his influence - on some of us at least who worked closely with him - was considerable. It was while he was in the School of Development Studies that he produced his two-volume Crisis in the World Economy (1980), in which he reiterated, among other things, a theme first evoked (presciently) in 1976 in a paper entitled "Long Live Trans-ideological Enterprise!: the socialist countries in the international capitalist division of labour" - that there was now only one world economy and that the "socialist" countries were rapidly being "reintegrated" into it. This work provided the foundation for a core course on "Contemporary World Development" that was taught by Frank and me jointly as the centre-piece of a new MA in Development Studies (which remains a successful programme, still with its core course, some 20 years later).

Eventually, after five years at UEA, Frank left for the University of Amsterdam, where he remained until his retirement at 65, commuting for two of those years back and forth to Norwich, while his sons finished college. In 1993, his long-term partner and political compañera Marta Fuentes died of cancer, and a year later, Frank moved to Toronto, where he lived with and then married Nancy Howell (a former "sweetheart", with whom he had already lived in 1959-61 before he met Marta).

He was attached to the Graduate Faculty at the University of Toronto from 1996 to 1998, where he continued to develop the ideas that had produced his book with Barry Gill, The World System (1993, covering the last 5,000 years of history), in ReOrient (1998), a major reworking of the history of the development of the modern world economy over the last 500 years, giving long overdue precedence to the role of Asia. Both works were to win book awards; ReOrient in particular gave rise to much acclaim but also to passionate debate among economic historians.

When the relationship with Nancy Howell ended he spent a year, "licking his wounds" as he put it, in Montreal, before moving in 1999 to Miami, where he became Visiting Distinguished Professor of International Studies at Florida International University and Visiting Professor of International Studies at the University of Miami. There he met Alison Candela, whom he married in 2003.

Frank continued to write and publish with his usual gusto, and to travel and teach, as visiting professor at the University of Nebraska (2001), Northeastern University (2002) and at the University of Calabria, Italy (2004).

David Seddon



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